Bard inspired by castle spectacle, says historian

A new book by a literary historian claims Shakespeare's Hamlet was inspired by events that took place at Kenilworth Castle.

The book, entitled Elizabeth, Shakespeare and the Castle, by Ronald Binns states that the theatrical spectacles laid on at Kenilworth for Queen Elizabeth I may have made a strong impression on the young Shakespeare who was part of the audience.

Shakespeare would have been 11 years old in 1575 when Queen Elizabeth visited royal favourite Robert Dudley at Kenilworth Castle.

In the book, Mr Binns describes the Queen’s 19-day visit, including the spectacular pageantry, plays, music and dancing laid on as Dudley lavishly wooed the ‘Virgin Queen’ within the walls and extensive grounds of Kenilworth Castle. There were firework displays and spectacular plays staged on the castle’s artificial lake.

“Young Shakespeare could well have been in the crowd of commoners watching from the other side of the lake,” said Mr Binns.

“Fireworks were quite rare in those days, particularly if you were a boy from a town as tiny as medieval Stratford.

“He would have been amazed by what he saw. It all made an impression on him.”

He adds that when Shakespeare was writing his plays “there were certain points when his Kenilworth experience came back to him”.

He supports this theory with quotes from several of Shakespeare’s plays including Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“Shakespeare often borrowed from other people’s stories,” he said. “Some of his characters, including a giant dolphin, had featured in the plays staged for Elizabeth by Robert Dudley.

“One of these plays apparently offended Queen Elizabeth by suggesting it was time she got married.”

He adds that Robert Dudley “wasn’t very subtle” and said he believes the whole time Elizabeth was at the castle, Dudley was “trying to impress her and convince her to marry him”.He also claims it’s probable that rumours of Elizabeth’s dispute with Dudley were heard outside the castle walls and that Shakespeare remembered these when he was writing Hamlet. He said: ”In Hamlet a play staged in a castle offends the monarch who has made a controversial decision about marriage.”

Very little is known about the young Shakespeare. Some facts, such as his marriage to Anne Hathaway at 18, are indisputable but no-one knows what inspired him to become a playwright. Theories about his youth are largely based on educated guesses by experts.

Mr Binns admits there is guesswork involved in his theory as well, describing his book as “a history, an interpretation and a speculation”.

For more about the book go to